instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads

What We Keep

Garden seduction

Passionflowers
Garden catalogs come in the mail in the dead of winter, full of seductive, expensive things that you have to dig a hole for. Or that somebody does, my husband observes, looking over my shoulder as I contemplate a white rhododendron with a pink center, like a lace valentine. I am easily seduced by things like that, although I have learned that I am not a good gardener to plants that are fussy, as the rhododendrons that we already tried proved to be. Ranunculus, for instance, do not like it here; I don’t know why. I lose patience, ask them why they can’t be more like the iris, and if they don’t shape up, am not inclined to take them for therapy.

And then there is asparagus. Asparagus is a commitment, like getting married. You have to really mean it. An asparagus bed takes digging, and amending with much compost, and then you can’t even eat it for several years if you want it to get a good start. Asparagus is delayed gratification, a marriage to someone who will be overseas for the next three years.

Into the bargain, we always long for the things that won’t grow where we are. In California I spent much time babying honeysuckle along, and yearned for lilac, a lost cause because you have to dig it up and pack its roots in ice to make it bloom, and I am not that crazy. In Virginia there is so much lilac I am bored, and honeysuckle is something that eats your garage if you don’t whack it back with a machete every two days. On the other hand, bougainvillea, which actually did eat my garage in California, won’t take a freeze out here, and has to be grown in pots and then spitefully refuses to bloom the second year, sickening slowly with some kind of white flossy stuff on its branches until it succumbs and I am dumb enough to buy another hothouse pot from the nursery.

Lately I have been trying to get artichokes to grow, which while they make a lovely hedge in coastal California, out here is like trying to train your cat to do housework. They don’t like summer heat and they don’t like winter freezes. But my favorite nursery had them last year (the same one that sold me the bougainvillea) in their greenhouse, which unfortunately I don’t own. So of course I bought them anyway. We got two apricot-size artichokes from them before they wilted in July.

I am trying to decide that all this means. Am I just pig-headed and/or in denial about climate? Do I think I can convince them that it’s not really that cold in the winter, that a little 95 degree heat never hurt anyone? Is it a form of faith? Do I believe that if I try enough times there will be an Artichoke Miracle? I’m not sure.

I’m also not sure where I’ve put some things. I can find my car keys but probably not the agapanthus. This makes spring and summer a kind of revelation, a garden miracle on their own. Daffodils are reliable and spider lilies are out there somewhere. Maybe that’s enough.
 Read More 
3 Comments
Post a comment

Rocks

We have been stealing rocks. Since we live in an old riverbed, this is not hard. The alleys abound with them, and every time it rains, enough to build a chimney with wash onto the road that goes through the park. I feel a bit furtive with my sack of rocks, stealthily putting promising ones in as we walk the dogs. But a load of the things costs a mint, and I need flower bed borders, so we embark on a life of crime.

It’s very satisfactory setting the day’s haul in a line next to yesterday’s, slowly encircling the columbine and the hydrangeas, like coming to the end of a story and knowing you’ll have the ending in your pocket tomorrow.

Rocks can’t be rushed, any more than stories can. They takes eons to form (so alas do my stories) and they are particular who they will sit next to. They are heavy and you can’t swipe too many at a time in the same way that it is inadvisable to steal too much of your neighbor’s personal life for your fiction. A small bit here and there, then a chunk or two from a different person is safest.
 Read More 
3 Comments
Post a comment

A bug in the works

With the first frost last Thursday night, the spiders are gone. I can’t say it distresses me when cutting back the browning stalks of the black-eyed-Susan, not to come face to face with one of the big black and yellow orb weavers that put out their nets for lunch just at a kneeling gardener’s eye level. But I miss their busyness in the autumn Spider Moon when they are doing their part in the insect ecosystem, the Great Chain of Bugness, even if I scope out the coneflowers and the daylily stalks before I wade in there. One took up housekeeping in the lotus this year, stringing her web between the stalks. I fear that that’s the mister behind her in the web, victim of a fatal romance.
I still see the bumblebees but they are fewer and fewer. The agastache that they love to bumble in has died back. When the Mexican sage has gone, they will too.
The milkweed bugs have left too, to wherever they go. I don’t know where they come from either, they just show up in late summer, a crust of tiny yellow dots on the milkweed and butterfly weed, progressing to orange and black nymphs and then handsome winged fellows.
Earlier in the year there was a praying mantis on the lotus. She swiveled her head at me, clearly wondering if I was edible. Too big, she decided, and moved on.
A few crickets are holding on in the basement but the garden feels empty, so many bug lives wound up. Sometimes after a frost I find small crisp bodies. I have to remind myself that a winter garden isn’t dead. Somewhere there are eggs, next year’s bugs in waiting.
 Read More 
1 Comments
Post a comment

In the garden

At the end of another summer term at Hollins, I am always sad to see the Children's Literature students and faculty leave, but light of heart that now I can get into the garden or the flea market or whatever else has been calling my name over the last six weeks. But it was a fine summer. We had the usual student/faculty potluck gatherings at our house, with fireworks left over from a rained out Fourth, and the summer campers from Hollinsummer’s pre-college creative writing program. One of my tutorial students left me a bumper sticker that reads LIVE. LAUGH. LOVE. REVISE. HOLLINS MA/MFA CHILDREN’S LITERATURE, appropriate since we had spent the whole semester doing just that with their thesis novels. They were one of the best classes I’ve ever traught and I don’t say that lightly.

Back in the garden I am struck by how much time I spend trying to get things to grow.

The lilies of the Nile that I planted last fall and can’t remember where I put. Is that them, over by the poppies? And if it’s not, what is it? And for that matter, what is that thing by the clothesline?

My hair, which has reached an odd length. And an odd color as I try to get rid of the last of the natural herb-based dye whose only drawback was that it turned red in sunlight.

A novel manuscript, which instead seems to be shrinking. Every time I go at it, it shyly sheds another 10 pages. Soon it will be a short story.

How very satisfactory to see students grow. Personally they look just like they did when they got here, but their manuscripts – ah, those have expanded and solidified and acquired a whole new look. Read More 
2 Comments
Post a comment